Several years ago a New Zealand man in his early 60s "met" a woman on an online dating app. The woman claimed to live in Texas and have a Ghanaian father.
After several months of talking she said her father had died and she had to travel from Texas to Ghana to sort out his estate, estimated to be worth about US$500,000.
Once she'd done this she was going to come to New Zealand. She claimed an ex-boyfriend had stolen all her savings so she needed money for the airfare and living expenses while she was there.
Over the course of several years the victim sent in excess of NZ$100,000 to her, most of which he borrowed.
He is now unable to retire as he'd planned to, as he needs to keep working to pay back the money he borrowed.
This may sound like the plot from a Hollywood movie, but it is in fact a true story, as reported to one of the staff at the Napier branch of ID CARE Australia & New Zealand.
The organisation was started in Australia in 2014 after founder Dr David Lacey was asked by the Australian Federal Attorney-General how we look after the victims of cyber crime.
The short answer was "no", says Napier-based New Zealand ID CARE operations manager Neil Hallett.
"Victims get pushed from pillar to post," he says.
ID CARE offers victims of cyber crime a case management officer, who has undergone a lengthy training regime, who will listen to the victim, offer empathy and talk them through what they need to do next.
"We can contact credit reporting agencies and do some of the lifting for them — take some of the pressure off."
Neil knows what he's talking about, having spent 35 years as a "cop", including setting up an identity crime intelligence unit in the New Zealand Police and four years as a senior New Zealand Police liaison officer in Washington. He established the Napier ID CARE office last year.
"It's gone from strength to strength. Scams and identity thefts revictimise time and time again. For example it is not unusual for victims to have a whole lot of debts and fines wracked up in their names by the criminals."
This leaves the victim in the position of having to retrace the criminal's steps, traipsing around government departments, banks and department stores.
"They may have to try and convince the Police they didn't incur those fines. The victim journey is just nasty — all along the way you get bad or no advice."
He says there's no end to it.
"These are sophisticated gangs. They have false call centres. All scams are intended to rip off."
These include investment, romance and job scams. One such scam involved 32-year-old Hawke's Bay man Paul Hay, whose Facebook account was hacked in 2014.
Explicit and disturbing messages were sent to his friends and family. Paul realised his social media accounts had been hacked when his friends started avoiding him. Worse was to come.
His friends and later the Police, did not believe him. Police turned up at his house with a pile of "evidence" against him and almost all his friends didn't want to talk to him anymore. He says he was cut off from everyone and fell into a huge depressive cycle of "just essentially being alone and sad".
"There was one person who gave me the time of day to hear my side of the story which I am thankful for and that is how I know how disturbing the messages got initially. For the rest of them I had to just move on with life and remember something my uncle told me years ago which was 'Sometimes it's better to know you're right than prove you're right'."
Paul says he has moved on with his life and is now more concerned with helping others in a similar position than proving a point to people "that ditched me at one of the hardest times in my life".
He went to great lengths to prove to Police and former friends he was the victim, and is now one of 10 case managers working alongside Neil and the manager in the Napier office.
ID CARE is now trying to corral some funding and ministerial support to set up a scam coordination centre in New Zealand, Neil says.
"There is zero co-ordination in New Zealand around this."
There is the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), which will take a report.
"They might send you on to Netsafe — they're in a different lane in the same pool."
Netsafe CEO Martin Cocker is very supportive of ID CARE's proposal.
"We need money to do the research to see what the scam response will look like in New Zealand. We are coming up with a model that might better serve the victim and put us on the front foot of preventing crime in the first place and identify the scammer and point law enforcement in the right direction."
On a daily basis ID CARE also works with the data breach victims and with businesses.
"They contact us and we step them through the process to properly respond to the damage that has occurred."
He says with the changes to the Privacy Act which came through in December 2020, entities have to report to the office of the Privacy Commission if personal data has been compromised.
"We can help them through what can be a very unpleasant journey."
Neil says most cyber crimes that target New Zealand are perpetuated from overseas.
"If we can get a scam co-ordination centre set up, we can provide support and not just be a reporting mechanism. Victims wouldn't be talking to a call centre but a case manager."
He says there will always be scams but we would like to get to the point where scammers see the +64 number and realise it is a waste of time trying it "as we're all over it".
"We want to harden New Zealand as a target for scams."
Neil describes victims as often being completely overwhelmed until they speak to the case managers at ID CARE.
"We use clear and concise tools, give them a pathway and enable them to take back some control. We are always working on ways to streamline the response system to make the recovery process easier for victims. What believe that the service we offer is unique in the world."
■ To contact ID CARE phone 0800 121 068 or visit www.idcare.org